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Top Interior Dept. officials, Brown, Merkley visit S. Oregon natl. monument, wildfire scene

Scene of South Obenchain Fire in Southern Oregon, which burned 30,000 acres, destroyed 100 structures
Gov. Kate Brown's office
Scene of South Obenchain Fire in Southern Oregon, which burned 30,000 acres, destroyed 100 structures

MEDFORD, Ore. (KTVZ) -- Two top Interior Department officials, joined by Sen. Jeff Merkley and Gov. Kate Brown, visited the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument in Southern Oregon on Thursday, as well as the scene of a 30,000-acre wildfire last year as they discussed wildfire preparedness, conservation, climate change and related issues.

Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs Bryan Newland and Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary Rachael Taylor were in the region to highlight conservation efforts, survey wildland fire damage, and discuss the Department of the Interior’s support for rural and Tribal communities.

In Ashland, the group visited Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument and met with local conservation partners. The Secretary committed to continuing to protect our public lands and waters to ensure they can be enjoyed by current and future generations.

While touring the site of the 2020 South Obenchain fire, which burned over 30,000 acres and destroyed nearly 100 structures, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary Rachael Taylor discussed investments that the Bipartisan Infrastructure Deal would make to address wildland fires. Proposed funding includes nearly $1.5 billion for Interior’s wildland fire management programs to improve firefighter pay, reduce hazardous fuels on the landscape, and restore lands after the fire.

“Climate change is making fire seasons more intense as our firefighters deal with hotter, drier conditions and more extreme fire behavior. The increased frequency of fires in urban areas is impacting more homes, businesses, and communities each year,” said Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary Rachael Taylor. “With the help of partners, local communities, and our dedicated career staff and federal firefighters, we are putting our fire programs on a more proactive footing to not only manage wildfires as they occur but to help prevent them from taking hold."

The Department leaders and Senator Merkley also traveled to Crater Lake National Park to highlight ongoing and future projects to make the park more accessible. These improvements will be supported by the Great American Outdoors Act’s (GAOA) National Parks and Public Land Legacy Restoration Fund program.

Through GAOA, Interior will invest nearly $1.6 billion in Fiscal Year 2022 to address critical deferred maintenance projects and improve transportation and recreation infrastructure in national parks, national wildlife refuges and visitors centers, as well as dams, water and utility infrastructure, schools and other historic structures.

In Bend, Assistant Secretary Newland will meet with local Tribal leaders Thursday evening to highlight the Department’s work to strengthen the role of Tribal consultation in federal decision-making, support Indigenous resilience to the pandemic, combat the crisis of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Peoples, and address our country’s dark history with the Federal Indian Boarding School Initiative.

During the Southern Oregon visits, Gov Brown discussed the importance of strong partnerships among local, state, and federal leaders as Oregon continues to face wildfires made more intense by the impacts of climate change.

At the Cascade Siskiyou National Monument, Brown and Merkley received a briefing on the significance and future of the monument. From there, the governor and senator traveled to the site of the South Obenchain fire in Butte Falls, where they received a briefing on fire recovery efforts and how fire season in Oregon is evolving due to the impacts of climate change. 

"The immense devastation of the 2020 wildfire season is difficult to comprehend unless you see it up close and in person, as we have today. Many families are still struggling to rebuild what they lost today, over a year later," said Brown said. "We are so pleased by our partnership with the Department of the Interior and the Biden-Harris administration, as we work together at the local, state, and federal levels to take a comprehensive, coordinated approach to addressing wildfire."

The governor was joined by representatives from the Bureau of Land Management and the Oregon Department of Forestry, as well as local scientists.  

KTVZ news sources

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